Red Bull Stratos: Misson to the Edge of Space
It was 2000 and I was in the packed Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City with the world’s largest gathering of the top explorers on and off the planet. It was my first ECAD or Explorers Club Annual dinner. That most amazing, inspiring and wildly unusual of all New York City’s black tie events. It was the hottest ticket in town – not only because of the infamous “exotic” appetizers – and the invitation had clearly spelled out the dress code; black tie, medals or native. Given that I hold neither the Russian Order of Polar Explorer or a knighthood, I simply went native and wore my kilt.
There are many firsts you never forget in your life and my first ECAD is still vividly etched in my mind – how could it not be? During that evening, Colonel Joseph Kittinger received the Explorers Medal for Excelsior III, his completely unheard of, record breaking skydive from 102,800 feet! Remember, this was a pre Mercury program and this insanely high altitude experiment – it was an experiment – was undertaken to assess the feasibility of astronauts being able to bail out of a damaged capsule on the edge of space.
102,800 feet is so high that you don’t just see the curvature of the earth, you have to aim for the planet or else you feel like you might miss it. You look straight out at space and everything above you is absolutely black. There is no blue in the sky at this altitude because there isn’t much sky left.
Colonel Kittinger began retelling the experience and then a wall sized image came up on the screen. It had been taken over his shoulder from a remote camera in the gondola and it looked straight out at space and the planet far below. He was standing in the doorway of the gondola and just about to jump.
And then he jumped.
A room filled with the greatest explorers in the world let out a collective gasp. And then multiple laughs of the “you’ve got to be kidding me” variety.
On August 16, 1960, Colonel Kittinger set no fewer than 4 world records but most importantly survived as he hurtled down towards the planet at 614 miles per hour! He was just shy of breaking the sound barrier without the aid of an aircraft! During the jump, the left glove on his pressurization suit malfunctioned and his hand swelled up to twice its normal size. Other than that one glitch, he landed safely.
Red Bull Stratos: Mission to the Edge of Space
If all goes well, on Sunday morning at 6AM MST, Felix Baumgartner will rise in a special capsule under a gigantic helium balloon to 120,000 feet and jump out breaking the 50 year old record. This jump isn’t an experiment for the space program but rather a quest to find the limits of human kind. And Colonel Kittinger is part of the team.
Don’t miss it. You can watch live at: Red Bull Stratos: Mission to the Edge of Space.